Last reviewed 13 October 2020

The NHS is the world’s first national health system to commit to become “carbon net zero” by 2040.

The commitment follows an extensive study, led by the NHS Net Zero Expert Panel, looking into the NHS’s own carbon footprint and also how the health service as a whole can contribute to nationwide carbon reduction efforts.

According to the report, air pollution leads to killer health conditions like heart disease, asthma, whilst heatwaves and extreme weather events, caused by climate change, increases the spread of infectious diseases and premature deaths.

Launching the NHS’ ambitious targets, chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said the climate emergency is also a health emergency and the NHS must play its part in reducing emissions.

“It is not enough for the NHS to treat the problems caused by air pollution and climate change — from asthma to heart attacks and strokes — we need to play our part in tackling them at source,” Stevens said

The NHS has been reporting on its own carbon emissions since 2008, but as the UK’s biggest employer with a wide range of hospital facilities and an extensive supplier base, its carbon footprint is still significantly higher than most other industries.

Under the new net zero plan the NHS aims to reduce emissions under its direct control by 80% by 2032 and to achieve net zero emissions by 2040. For its wider supply chain, the target is an 80% reduction by 2039 and to hit net zero by 2045.

“The NHS has already made significant progress decarbonising our care, but as the largest employer in Britain, responsible for around 4% of the nation’s carbon emissions, if this country is to succeed in its overarching climate goals the NHS has to be a major part of the solution,” Stevens added.

The plan lists a number of early steps to reduce emissions including completing a £50 million LED lighting replacement programme which is expected to save over £3 billion by 2050 and new zero ambulances and other vehicles by 2032. Longer term programmes include building 40 new net zero hospitals and improving resilience and adaptation to climate change impacts across the health care sector.